My story

From Italy at first sight

My own journey in Italy began at the age of 12 when I came for the first time during a family vacation on a whirlwind trip for three weeks all over the country with my parents, my brother and my grandmother. We travelled by train starting in Verona and then visited Padova, Venice, Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Rome, and at the end by ship to Palermo, Sicily. I remember the artwork, churches, monuments, food and people as well and being captivated by the beauty of it all. Once back home in California, I began studying Italian language in high school and during those years returned to spend summer vacations in Florence.
I would never have imagined in those years that I would later return to Italy many times for extended periods of study or work; there was something about Italy, however, that captivated me and kept pulling me back.

Venice and my studies

I eventually majored in Italian Literature in college. During my last year I studied abroad in Venice and shared an apartment with three young Italian women who were studying architecture, and with whom I share the vivid memory of having stood together one freezing January night in 1996 behind La Fenice opera house, watching helpless as it burned down in flames. Having witnessed a piece of history disappear in front of my eyes would significantly influence me later in my choice to continue further with my studies in Italian literature and then later art history.
Venice has heavily influenced not only my professional studies, but also my perspectives in life with its labyrinthian urban landscape and the seemingly endless walking through its calli and campi. These were moments when great contemplation began and problems were solved.

New roots in Tuscany

After finishing college and before going to graduate school, I accepted a job in Siena, living and working there for two years for the University of California’s Education Abroad Program, and began to appreciate life in Tuscany. In 2005, a year after La Fenice was re-built and re-opened after its tragic fire I’d witnessed years before, I returned to Venice for another year after completing my final PhD exams and did dissertation research in Venice’s historic Biblioteca Marciana in Piazza San Marco. Tuscany eventually won me over and rooted me in Italy. Today I commute on a short train ride back and forth between Florence and Pistoia where I live.

Molly McIlwrath

Feel free to write to me at

info@letterartemente.com